Iranian Pop Singer Gagged, Under Fire Over Antiwar Video

Iran's Culture Ministry says it is considering action against an Iranian pop singer and his recording company amid accusations that Mehdi Yarrahisullied the "martyrs" and ideals of past conflicts.

The ministry last week dismissed reports that it had already blacklisted Yarrahi, saying it was awaiting a response from the company that produced the clip in question for the song Torn Rock.

But Yarrahi suggested this week that he was already under a temporary ban following criticism from hard-liners and a semiofficial news agency, telling Radio Tehran on January 6 that ministry officials told him by telephone that he and Green Cup Production were prohibited from working "until further notice."

There was no comment from Green Cup Production, and its website was inaccessible on January 8.

"I was being naughty," Yarrahi said of the video, adding that he would accept the ministry's final ruling. But he rejected allegations that he had insulted Iranian "martyrs."

"I'm from Ahwaz, I grew up with the sound of the [air-raid] sirens. I have the right to ask [questions]," said Yarrahi, whose native Khuzestan Province was a front line in the war against Iraq. "The duty of artists is to ask questions and convey the voice of the people to the authorities."

Under Iran's tough censorship rules, books, movies, songs, and other works of art must be vetted by the authorities before their release. Yarrahi said it took him more than a year to get a release permit for his video clip due to "several words that our friends insisted must be changed."

A spokesman for the Culture Ministry, Majid Foroughi, was quoted by Iranian media on January 3 as saying passages of the song differed from what was originally submitted for release and that the accompanying video was "illegal."

Horrors Of War

Mehdi Yarrahi's video clip highlights some of the horrors of war, including young lives lost, the use of child soldiers, and missing remains of presumed casualties. It depicts mothers holding pictures of lost sons, people standing in line for rationed goods, missiles hitting schools and residences, and painful memories that never go away.

In it, Yarrahi is wearing what appears to be a military uniform with a Nazi armband while singing lyrics that are critical of an unspecified conflict.

"All of our memories are intertwined with war," he sings. "Why don't we have a life yet? Someone tells me what we have achieved. How is it that we stayed alive but we're martyrs?"

Iran's leadership has long glorified the bloody 1980-88 war with Iraq, dubbed the "Holy Defense." Some of the Iranian volunteers sent to the front lines in that conflict were children as young as 13. The casualties' sacrifices are commemorated in museums, murals, video clips, and countless war movies and documentaries.

The war lasted eight years after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Iran in 1980 and, by many estimates, killed upward of 500,000 troops and a much smaller number of civilians.

The war left many more injured, including Iranian soldiers hit by Iraqi chemical attacks who are still suffering from the consequences of exposure to mustard gas.

When Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini eventually agreed to a cease-fire as demanded by a UN Security Council resolution in July 1988, he described it as a "poisoned chalice."


"I don't know, I don't understand why there was so much hesitation to end the war," Yarrahi sings in his video clip. "Another generation went to war and did not return. I'm the last one of this tribe, a tribe with no food and no water."

Hard-liners have accused Yarrahi of insulting wartime and revolutionary ideals and called for action against the singer.

"Mehdi Yarrahi's video clip is not an antiwar piece, it is a piece against the Holy Defense that questions the golden era of the Iranian people," the political editor of the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Tasnim news agency, Abbas Kolahduz, said on Twitter.

The Fars news agency also blasted Yarrahi, linking the timing of the song to the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought the current, clerically dominated regime to power.

"Apart from the lyrics of the piece, which are opposition concepts on the eve of the anniversary of the victory of the [1979] Islamic Revolution, the singer has raised many unanswered questions by wearing a Nazi uniform," Fars said.

Yarrahi defended his decision to wear a Nazi armband, calling it a symbol of war.

"In the video clip, apart from a Nazi armband, there's a Russian hat, English boots, an American overcoat, and a [soldier's] plaque. [All of these] are symbols of contemporary wars," he said. "No one can accuse me of any certain interpretation while putting all of these together."

Amid the controversy, some Iranians on social media called for support for Yarrahi, whom they said stands with the people and shares their problems.

Sepehr Khorrami, a journalist with the reformist Sharq daily, was among them, tweeting that Yarrahi "really cares about social issues and uses his platform very well."

Seemingly embracing more controversy, Yarrahi recently expressed solidarity with striking steel workers by wearing their work garb onstage. The Ahwaz steel factory's workers are demanding unpaid wages and better work conditions, and dozens of them have reportedly been detained.